Dora removed her thumb from the bell-push. She listened to the music of the repeated ding-dong until it was swallowed by the silence of the house. No-one came. The sun poured its warmth into the sheltered entry porch. She was glad to be out of reach of the cold wind that stole the warmth from the sun. She waited a while before pushing the bell once more. Perhaps no one was home.
She sighed, making her way back along the path to the gate. Turning to make sure the gate was securely latched, she glanced back at the house. A malevolent face watched from the window. She hesitated, hand still on the gate. Should she go back and try again? While she hesitated the face disappeared, the curtain fell into place; the house was closed to her.
Sliding under the steering wheel of her car she tossed her handbag and Bible onto the passenger seat. A small card fell from the Bible and she stooped to retrieve it from the floor. It was a reproduction of Holman Hunt’s picture of Jesus standing at the door, knocking. She slipped it back under the cover of the Book, slid the car key into place and started the engine. She wouldn’t drive far: there was a lake on the outskirts of town and she had a Thermos of coffee and a pack of sandwiches in the car.
The hot coffee was welcome but she was too distraught to manage a sandwich. She wanted to pray for her sister but her distress broke her prayers into fragments, mixing them with her despair and melting them with her tears. What had grown a small rift into such a chasm of hatred? Ann was little more than a year younger than Dora; their brother Steven was older by almost four years. As children the girls shared the same room, attended the same school, and sang together in the church choir. Marriage had separated the girls. Dora travelled interstate when her husband was offered promotion with a transfer.
Following the death of parents and brother in a motor accident, Ann inherited the family home. Dora’s inheritance was her father’s library of books. Ann objected to the removal of the books from the house, offering to pay Dora the value of the books instead. Dora refused. She treasured her father’s collection of first editions and rare books as much as he had done. It was not a large collection and when crated and despatched did not leave a vast empty space to be filled with Ann’s books and bric-a-brac. It was not the books that Ann missed, nor their monetary worth: it was the distinction of having the collection on her shelves.
Dora wrote; her letters went unanswered. She telephoned; the calls were terminated as soon as Ann knew who the caller was. News reached her from time to time: a friend sent her an obituary notice when Ann’s husband relinquished his hold on a frail life racked with pain. She knew that Ann adored the gentle man and she longed to comfort her sister in her time of grief. Her card was returned to her unopened.
The latest news was that Ann was ill. Dora and her husband prayed together and agreed that the only course left was for Dora to make a personal visit. Surely, surely when they stood face to face the bitterness of the years would ease away. Dora prayed and planned and packed her car. With the passing hours her tremulous hope resolved and hardened, giving her courage to take those final steps.
She stood in the sunlit porch and pressed the bell-push. The music of the ding-dong echoed until it was swallowed by the silent house. No one came. She tried again. Was this the death knell of their relationship? She closed the gate, watched by hate-filled eyes. Now she sat in her car at the lakeside, sipping at the hot coffee in her hand.
Her spirit quietened. She was able to pick up the pieces of her prayer. Setting her coffee cup aside she reached for her Bible, retrieving once more the Holman Hunt reproduction. She held the picture while she sought the word of Jesus.
“Lord, how many times must I forgive?”
“Seventy times seven.”
She placed the picture on the words. “Lord, you are the only one who can reach her heart. Heal her hurt and give her peace. She is in Your hands, not mine.”
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